Hundreds of Bloomington-Normal residents braved the cold Saturday morning to protest gun violence and mass shootings and advocate for gun reform.
Students, teachers, and community members spanning multiple generations gathered at 11 a.m. at the McLean County Museum of History in Downtown Bloomington for the local March for Our Lives. They marched to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts an hour later.
Bloomington-Normal resident Connie Debord said as a former kindergarten teacher, she felt it was necessary to brave the snowstorm and protest gun violence.
“I think schools need to be safe havens every minute of every day for every student and every school year. And it just sickens me that kids don’t feel safe and that we can’t protect them in their learning environment,” Debord said.
The March for Our Lives in the Twin Cities was one of hundreds of sister marches held around the country in response to the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that resulted in 17 deaths. Participants rallied for gun control despite inclement weather in many cities.
Survivors of the Parkland shooting led thousands at the march in Washington, D.C., urging Congress to pass stricter gun control laws.
— WGLT (@WGLTNews) March 24, 2018
What They Want
Protestors in the Twin Cities had a similar sentiment as those in D.C. Debord said several measures are needed to keep children safe in schools.
“(Legislators) need to start yesterday and pass some laws,” Debord said. “Ban assault rifles. No one in our country should be allowed to purchase a military-style assault weapon. More assistance with mental health from an early age on. I also think the age to purchase a gun should be raised to 21, and (there should be) stricter background checks because people are getting through the cracks, and it’s just inexcusable.”
University High School student Sidney Kennedy, 18, said her school is taking its own precautionary measures by holding an evacuation drill April 6.
“It’s going to be an all-day thing. We (also) have lockdowns, which we’ve had all of our lives. But the evacuation drill is new,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy added there is a chilling effect that comes with using a school day to practice evacuating the school in case of a shooting.
“It just makes me wonder, ‘What if?’ Having an evacuation drill just shows that (a school shooting) is a possibility (for my school), and it shouldn’t be,” Kennedy said.
The local March for Our Lives was organized by Voices of Reason, a progressive advocacy group in the Twin Cities, with help from Indivisible McLean County, Not In Our Town, the Normal Community High School Peace and Justice Group, and YWCA McLean County.
Organizers invited speakers from local schools to voice their concerns and urge attendees to vote and stand up for gun reform.
Debord said listening to the young speakers was inspiring.
“I was thinking as I was listening to our speakers out there that our schools must be so proud that we have raised these kids in our community and they are so well-spoken,” Debord said. “These kids are students today, but they’re voters tomorrow. I think they’re going to change our nation. Our future is our kids, whatever their age.”
The march also drew in about a dozen counter-protestors, including Shane Bragonier, who said he was marching for his Second Amendment rights.
“That’s what it’s all about. We have the right to have guns. We’re legal, law-abiding citizens and we’re not going to stand idle and let people take our guns from us,” Bragonier said.
Bragonier said those advocating for gun reform were focusing on the wrong group of people.
“Legal gun owners aren’t the people that are doing the school shootings. These are kids that aren’t educated and probably weren’t raised right by their parents, and some of these places probably don’t have background checks (like ours),” Bragonier said. “We have to have a firearms card to start with, and we have to pass a background check. We have to have a second background check every time we go to make a purchase of a firearm.”
Bragonier is a member of the National Rifle Association and said protestors criticizing the group aren’t educated on its programs.
“A lot of (the NRA’s) money goes to training kids. They put a lot of programs on – lots of safety training. Without the NRA, a lot of kids wouldn’t get educated on guns and safety,” he said.
Bragonier supports arming teachers as a response to school shootings and said he would feel better knowing there were concealed carriers where his grandchildren go to school.
“I would say it would be a lot worse to not have (guns) than it would be to have them,” Bragonier said.
The march concluded with a final song at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.
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